The Darker Berry #6
And because we love you guys like that…
When he ran up the stairs to his bedroom, he told himself his mother’s statement about Umi was the only reason he thought about her as a potential spouse.
He was done with relationships and commitments. And even though his friends had set him up on one or two dates after the last relationship ended, he had found a way to wriggle out of it.
Still, he found himself musing, thinking about what Umi would be like if she were his girlfriend.
Would she be domineering – authoritative while they were in public or having random conversations – and submissive while they made love?
Or maybe it would be the other way round. Maybe she’d be easier to talk to and harder to fuck.
He needed to stop thinking about sex because somehow, since he had her, when he thought sex, he thought sex with her.
He had to stop his mind from getting used to that idea.
Stepping into his bedroom, he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. It was Iyabo.
His mood darkened immediately, “Yes?”
“O ga o. Which one is yes? Yes like I am disturbing your life, abi?” she asked and drew a long hiss.
He hated nothing more than hearing from her.
“What do you want?” he asked coldly, slumping into his soft bed. He really hoped the conversation would be a short one. Iyabo was a thorn in his flesh.
“I want to come and know your house,” she said simply, blowing gum loudly from the other end of the line.
Iyabo always chewed. It was her trademark – like boobs were to Dolly Parton and hits were to Rihanna.
“That won’t be happening, but thanks for your kindness.” He said, prepared to put an end to the call. He was not going to indulge her for a second more; he had already done that enough by picking her call.
“Heys, wait,” she said “I want to come and collect my N1 million.” She chewed loudly before continuing, “Time have pass, it haf do. And me I know you very well and I know that waiting for you is like somebody trying to remove fire from hell fire so if Mohammed no go meet Mountain…”
His irritation was nearing its edge. “Iyabo, I will not be giving you N1 million. In fact, I will not be giving you N1. Not in this life, not in the other. So the earlier you let that sink in, the better for you. Have a great night.” He hung up before she could get another word in and tossed the phone far away from him.
Iyabo knew him like she said but he also knew her.
She was a sore loser and she wasn’t one to throw threats around. He knew for sure that she was going to pull a stunt he was not expecting and he would be stupid to wait for her.
So he stood, strolled to his closet and pulled out a customized hoodie and a pair of blue denim. Shedding off his clothes, he took his mother’s advice and pulled on a pair of blue Calvin Klein briefs before donning his hoodie and denim.
Scribbled in his favorite color, black, across the chest of his hoodie was his surname Agbaje.
A name he had been given after his mother married his stepfather.
His stepfather; the simple and easy going Mr. Agbaje who loved his mother endlessly and showered the same affection on him.
He had met his pregnant mother at the market in a small town in Ekiti, where she had been struggling with a bag full of foodstuff on a hot sunny afternoon.
His mother had told him he had been the only one to help her. The others had thrown in ‘sorry’ and ‘pele’ from where they stood. But Henry Agbaje had abandoned his own things, hurried towards where she squatted on the floor while trying to gather the things she had just bought.
Her freshly grounded pepper had been lost but what she had found that day had been worth more than anything money could buy – Henry.
With his ‘fro well combed and well oiled, he had been dressed in a white dasiki, sown from a dry lace material.
He offered her a smile and a hand and drove her home in his shiny blue Volkswagen Beetle.
That afternoon, they spoke like old friends as the petite car sped to her apartment some fifteen minutes’ drive from the market.
As the wind blew gently across their faces, his gaze holding her oval shaped head, flattered by the neat suku hairstyle she carried, they formed a bond many spent the rest of their lives trying to build.
And when she made him a lunch of hot soft eba with a steamy dish of ila alasepo garnished with stock fish, ponmo and goat meat later in her one room apartment, it felt like they had known each other for three years and not three hours.
He fell fast and hard for her and her love for him grew rapidly like wildfire in a dry bush during harmattan.
They were inseparable; like amala and ewedu, they were so in sync, one couldn’t go without the other.
When she told him she was pregnant, instead of running, he stayed. And he loved her till she birthed the baby and offered her his name, only if she wanted.
Femi still missed him even though the man had been dead for two decades. Henry Agbaje had taught him to be the man he was – fierce, fearless and driven.
“Ibo lo da?” his mother asked when he returned to the sitting room, dressed up.
“I need to have a quick meeting with a friend in VI. I won’t be long,” Femi told his mother and jetted out of the house before she could school him on abandoning rest for another meeting.
Truth was, he was not going to VI, he was going somewhere in Mushin, a street known for its high crime rate and violence.
There, the permanent solution for his Iyabo problem lay.
So he sped through the lights, took the shortest cuts he knew and drove through the bad roads that led to his destination.
He was there in less than forty-five minutes.
Parking his car in a safe enough spot, he bypassed shirtless gang members smoking weed in a corner while he found his way into an old building in a bad state.
It was a ‘face me I face you’ type of building, the dark passageway lit only by the bright moon shining outside.
Femi easily found the door to the apartment he was looking for and he turned towards it, ignoring the stench of beer, cigarette and urine.
He knocked only twice before he felt the coldness of steel against his neck.
“Agbaje,” he heard a deep masculine voice say.
Raising his hands slowly, Femi replied, “Put away the gun, Wasiu. I’m not here for trouble.”
Wasiu chuckled. “Agbaje, when was the last time you paid us a visit in the ghetto, ehn?” he asked in Yoruba. “Then suddenly you show up on a random night and you expect me to believe nothing is up? Femo, even you cannot think Wasiu is that stupid.”
In one swift movement, Femi whirled around and shoved Wasiu against the wall in his passage way. Grabbing the gun from him, he replied in Yoruba, “Like I said, I am not here for trouble. So can we go in and talk already?”
Wasiu eyed him coldly, his battered face taking in Femi’s clean clothes and fresh look.
Femi Agbaje had escaped from the rough life unlike the rest of them and there he was, looking all clean and too good for the streets they all grew up in.
What he felt was a mixture of admiration and envy – what if that was him? What if he, Wasiu, had hustled the way Femi did and become the celebrity he was these days? Owning a TV station and all wasn’t child’s play and a man like Femi had made that happen by toiling and sheer hard work.
A man that used to be one of his best friends.
Wasiu opened the door to his apartment and led Femi in the moment he was set free.
Unlike the passageway and the exterior, the room was clean and it smelt good.
Old cane chairs sat around an equally old center table. A plasma TV was on and Wasiu was watching something on Femi’s new TV station. He hurriedly grabbed a remote and turned off the TV when he saw Femi had noticed.
“What do you want, Femi?” he asked, his voice was cold and Femi knew that even though he and this man had once seen each other as brothers, life had happened and their friendship was not likely to recover.
So he went straight to the point. “I am here because of Iyabo.” He said, his hands stuck in his jean pockets.
Wasiu frowned. “What about her?”
“She’s blackmailing me.”
Wasiu went to take a seat. “How is that my business?”
“She listens to you, you can tell her to stop already.”
Wasiu held his gaze for a long time before his cold face broke into a smile. “You came all the way from your fancy house, left the comfort of your high class mistresses to come here to tell me to stop Iyabo from blackmailing you?”
Femi watched him, silent.
Wasiu’s smile broke into full blown laughter. “You must be joking.”
“I’m not,” Femi said firmly. “Because all of this started with you.”
The smile was wiped clean from Wasiu’s face. “Excuse me?”
“Remember the girl you all took turns to rape?”
Wasiu’s face had darkened now.
“The one you were obsessed with, lost your virginity to and wouldn’t believe wanted to leave you for someone better? Yeah, that one. Iyabo is blackmailing me because of that incident.” He watched Wasiu, uneasy, shift his gaze from him. “And you’re going to make it stop.”
“I was not the one who brought her to your house!” Wasiu snarled.
“No. But you used it as an opportunity to bang her brains out and then invited your other friends to join in the feast!”
Femi wished he could rewind the hands of time and erase that particular day from happening.
Wasiu had been seeing the victim for a year and they had all watched as his fascination with her grew into full blown obsession.
First, he had seen her picture on the first page of a cheap poorly made newspaper. She had been beautiful, long hair, wide eyes and a great body.
Her name had been Nonye and she had been the source of many fantasies in Wasiu’s head after then.
“Omo dis girl too fine!” he said after a long day at work as a bus conductor one night. He had been at the park, waiting for the bus he worked on to get filled with passengers, when he bought N50 worth of puff puff.
When he finished the delicious snack, he had proceeded to read the content of the oil stained newspaper he had purchased his puff puff in.
Wasiu had learned how to read from the pages of books, newspapers, magazine and anything words were written on. While they were growing up, it was not a surprise to see him stop by a building and try to figure out the words on the wall by reading it out loud.
So reading the article on the paper had not been surprising.
And he had taken the paper home and bought every copy until he saw her face on another copy of the newspaper. Her home address had been there and he had found her.
Nonye was fun, flirty and vivacious. She wanted to see life and with her, there were no inhibitions.
Wasiu loved the real her and he chased her like a little boy in the slums would chase a lone tyre.
Femi could not tell if Nonye felt the same way about Wasiu or if she just wanted to enjoy life as a simple girl from the same world as she was.
Besides, Wasiu wasn’t the usual bus conductor; he wanted more from life and he had dreams.
It was from Wasiu, Femi first got the idea of starting his own TV station, abandoning the ghetto and getting a better life.
In a way, Wasiu had first given him the picture of the life he now lived.
And so, Nonye had gone around with Wasiu, having fun with him and even hanging with the gang.
Everything had been great until Wasiu called her his girl one day while they were all stoned in one of their hangout spots.
“Who be your girl?” Nonye had asked, shifting away from him on the wooden bench they shared “Abeg no let my boyfriend hear una,” she had added, confusing Wasiu.
“You get boyfriend?” he had inquired, more curious than the rest of the gang because he, the guy who thought he owned the girl, didn’t even really know the girl. “Boyfriend that is not Wasiu? Who is this boyfriend?”
And just like that, Nonye, in her stoned state, had revealed to Wasiu whom she had been seeing for twelve months and had been spending considerable time with, that her boyfriend was a banker.
She had not been joking. Wasiu had come face to face with this banker guy during one of his visits to see her after that day.
So what had she been doing, hanging around him? He had asked her.
And she had told him simply that he was mad fun and a good lay.
What Nonye didn’t know was that her words dug deep into Wasiu’s heart and sliced it into different pieces.
He had been in love with her, maybe a little too much and she had been the first woman he made love to. The woman he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with.
After that realization, Wasiu went nuts. A fight broke out that same day and he beat Nonye up. How could she have been using him? How could she have been so cold?
Nonye, livid, had left, swearing never to see him again.
When the demons of anger deserted Wasiu, he went in search of her, pleading, hoping she’d take him back.
But she didn’t.
He slipped into a dark state then, never fully recovering.
And that was where Femi had come in.
Wasiu, knowing Nonye had a soft spot for Femi, had urged him to ask her over. He told Femi he wanted to plead with her. And Femi listened, asking Nonye over to his when his mother travelled.
When Wasiu suddenly showed up, Nonye decided to leave. But he begged her to stay and tried to make love to her.
“It would be the last time, Nonye mi,” he begged, his eyes, swollen from tears, a pitiful sight to behold.
And she had obliged, letting him into her in his most emotional state. When they were done, he asked her to leave her boyfriend, telling her he would take care of her.
But Nonye told him it was not going to happen. She had a dream and her banker boyfriend fit into it more than Wasiu.
Femi was not sure what point things went wrong, but it did. An argument ensued, a fight broke out and Wasiu hit her. Nonye fought back, cutting him with a knife.
The rest was the beginning of everyone’s nightmare – Wasiu raped Nonye; his boys who had been manning the entrance came in and took their turns with her. But they had feared for their lives when she swore she would bring the police the next day.
It didn’t help that her Uncle was a corporal in the police force.
They hit her, beat her, until she fell silent. And when it was obvious they had killed her, it hit them that they had to do something about their crime.
They hid her body but soon her photo surfaced in the papers as a missing person, thanks to her Uncle. Panic spread amongst the group and of course, the policeman had made things worse by threatening hell and brimstone.
And that was when they dismembered her body, tied it up in a sack and sank it deep in the bar beach.
“Make this go away, Wasiu,” Femi said.
“You’re the one she’s blackmailing, not me.”
“I know that makes you feel good but if this gets out, we are all going down.”
“Maybe, but I am just a bus driver. You on the other hand have everything to lose. It wouldn’t matter that you didn’t touch the girl.”
Femi tried to control his rage. “Why are you doing this?” he managed to ask without letting his anger show.
“Doing what?” Wasiu acted like he did not know what his friend was talking about. The guy had stolen his dream and walked off into the sunset with it. Yet, he never cared about the rest of them in the streets.
It was like talking to them or reaching out was a plague. Not even when they sent messages to him did he reach out. He was someone different.
“You forgot about me and you only returned because Iyabo is blackmailing you. Yet you expect me to care?”
“You are acting like a child.” Femi snapped, “It’s not my fault things never changed for you!” And the moment the words came out, he felt bad.
“You’re a fool,” Wasiu retorted and pointed at the door. “Get out of my house.”
“Get out, Femi!”
When he turned to leave, he wished things were different. That he and a man he once saw as his brother weren’t torn apart because life had dealt its blows.
And he hoped they could settle it somehow because he believed somewhere the unbreakable bond they once shared still stood.
When he left Wasiu, he had needed a certain calmness he was not sure he could get immediately in the comfort of his house.
Parked in the middle of his estate, his fingers hovered over his keyboard as he toyed with the idea of calling Becca.
He didn’t want to have sex, he just needed body warmth, some sort of company.
But he also remembered Becca could be crazy and tonight was not the type of night he wanted to risk having her over. He wanted peace and quiet, the opposite of what his life was at the moment.
So he drove to his baby’s mother’s house instead.
Teni was asleep when he got there; cradled in her mother’s hands, she slept peacefully with no worries in the world.
When she smiled in her sleep, his love for her was renewed and he promised her silently to make things right before she grew older.
He was not going to carry skeletons in his cupboard as his little girl became older. He owed her a drama-free life.
“Are you okay? You look tired.” Nifesi, the mother of his child said, pouring him a glass of water with ice.
“Are you sure? You work too hard sometimes you know…”
He knew. But that wasn’t what was wrong with him. Emptying the cold water in his mouth, he gestured for Nifesi to pour him another glass.
As the sound of the water hit the glass from the jug Nife carried, Femi’s mind drifted to Umi.
He wondered if she could calm him by just sitting there or lying near him…
Damn it, his thoughts needed to stop straying to her.
She was the woman he slept with; not the woman he discussed serious life issues with.
No woman was that woman for him. Except his mother, whom he couldn’t discuss getting away with murder with.
He drank the second glass of water and handed the empty glass to Nife.
“I have to go.” He gave her a quick hug and kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Can I get Teni tomorrow?” he asked.
“Is your mother around?” she inquired and he nodded. “Then, yes.”
Nifesi only trusted him with the baby when his mother was around. According to her, his life was too irresponsible for Teni.
When he stepped out of the House, Iyabo was calling him again. He ignored her the first two times but when she wouldn’t stop, he grabbed the phone.
“What?” he snapped.
Iyabo laughed. “You better calm that your blood that is rushing because you will have to when you hear what I know.”
He paused, waiting for her to say what silly thing she had gotten up to this time.
“I know you are sleeping with my oga.”
He almost let out a gasp.
“When I went to pick something in the house after I forget, I hear as her friend was using you to laugh at her.”
Femi struggled to keep his emotions under control.
“Is she your babe?”
“That is none of your business but no, we are not dating.”
“Okay na. Be there, lying. Sha I have a plan and it is to tell her what you did plenty years ago.”
Femi shut his eyes tightly, wishing his life wasn’t playing out like a story on the pages of a romance novel.
“I’m serious.” She said and hung up.
And he knew she was serious, because she was Iyabo – a desperate, devilish bitch who stopped at nothing until she got what she wanted.
Turning his car around, he drove back to find Wasiu.